Mouldmaking using Gel-Flex PVC Compound

Anyone who has experimented with casting will appreciate that the process of designing and making the mould is the most critical part of the process. ‘One-off’ simple block or slab casts can often be produced using scrap mdf to create the framework before pouring and then breaking the frame for removal of the completed cast. This is usually successful but can be restrictive in terms of detailing and can often mean destroying the mould to remove the cast.

In order to capture more intricate details of an object we can use silicone rubber which is widely used in the art and design industry. The main drawback of using silicone is its cost and only having one-purpose once it has cured.

A great alternative we are encouraging for testing is ‘Gel-Flex’ PVC Compound which can be melted, poured, cast into and then remelted and re-purposed to make several moulds with the same amount of material.

Monty gel flex tests (2) Monty gel flex tests (1)Using Gel-Flex

At present we are unable to provide a method of melting the compound in the workshop but this product can be easily used at home by heating using a conventional hob or microwaved in a suitable dish (As Monty explains below – preferably glass!). Instructions are provided with the product which you should always read and make sure you understand thoroughly before using.


Once the product is in a liquid state it is poured in the same way as with conventional silicone mouldmaking into a box mould over the object you are wanting to cast.

The main drawback to using Gel-Flex is that it isn’t as durable when being used to produce high numbers of casts. Eventually the mould can become over-stretched and can rip. The beauty being that the material can then be melted again and poured to create the mould again – eco considerate and cost effective if you need to mould multiple items.

Monty gel flex tests

Case Study: 1:1 Facade study casts by Monty Dobney

“Gel Flex was great to create the intricate detailing required to for a 1:1 model of my paternated bricks. I first laser cut and glued together (the most time consuming step) an mdf master for the mould to then be covered with the Gel Flex.

After reading the instructions I decided to melt it in a microwave oven, on the first attempt I melted the plastic ‘microwaveable’ container which I had decided to use to melt it in. But two containers stacked seemed to do the trick for holding their form! It was also important to keep checking on it as it can very easily ‘over cook’ which turns it brown (as can be seen in the image below) and a strong burning plastic smell!  I successfully used the Gel Flex to cast from both plaster and wax.”

Monty Gel Flex Tests (4) Monty Gel Flex Tests (5)

Gel Flex is available to buy from 4D Modelshop where you can get 10% student discount or at  Fred Aldous in Manchester and can be found by clicking here.

1:1 ‘Green’ Facade detail by Alexandros Pavlides

As part of his ‘Sensory Markets’ project Alex Pavlides has created a 1:1 section of brick wall to display a possible facade detail providing an organic coat to existing brick walls in Manchester. 1.1 Facade Detail (1)The approach to recreating the brick wall was much like that of Polys Christofi’s project last year but focussed on a much smaller area for the detail. Bricks were made using plaster casts from vac-formed moulds before being painted to resemble red brick and then pointed like a full scale wall. 1.1 Facade Detail (6) Details of the intervention were made up using laser cut acrylic bases, abs tubing and threaded rob before being sprayed silver to represent the intended metal finish of the mountings. The detail mounts were then fixed to the ‘wall’ and mesh was added to the ends creating an elevated platform to encourage plant growth in front of the wall. The mesh was then secured using washers and bolts. 1.1 Facade Detail (8) Alex describes his approach to the project:

“I’ve tried [to] introduce an intervention that makes the alleys memorable to the people by making the alleys acting as “landmarks” in the city. The intervention is about applying moss on different surfaces in the alleyways and create architecture from moss. I designed an external skin of the brick walls made of steel wire mesh and the moss will be applied on the mesh at different points of the city. “

1.1 Facade Detail (15)Alex is currently working on getting moss to grow on the mesh to be displayed later in the year and we look forward to seeing the results! We will post an update of how he progresses.


Venice Biennale 2014

By now there have been hundreds of on-line reviews of the Venice Biennale which is this year focused around Architecture. The Venice Biennale is an annual event that showcases the creative arts from across the globe. Having been open since the start of June this year, the show is almost coming to its end having seen thousands of interested visitors of all backgrounds. My visit last week coincided with the 5th year study trip which basically allowed students free reign over the site and city.

My interest on the site is of course about the varied use of models. There was certainly no shortage of examples. Each international pavilion display addressed their own study of architectural fundamentals and the use of models played a regular and prominent role. As there were so many examples I will summarize my visit by including images of the examples on show and pay particular attention to contemporary methods of display which noticeably inspired many of the students I was with.

Finland – This pavilion was curated in a clear a concise way that explained the concepts in drawings, writing, models and the full size buildings on display outside of the main space. This method of display for the project was great and makes for easy understanding by any visitor. It’s probably worth taking note of this narrative when thinking about the display or presentation of your own projects.




The use of timber pieces accurately cut for the model (above) translated directly into the construction of the 1:1 construction (right).



Austria – Now as popular as they are amongst established architects I’ve never been a huge fan of the ‘White Model’. I’m not sure why but I suppose it feels like a stark and almost clinical representation of a form which in reality has much more texture and thought behind its finish. That said, I’ve made many of these for clients and of course pursue the whitest of white finish to meet their brief. The Austrian pavilion presented a bright white room dotted with white block models of every one of the worlds parliament buildings (above left and below). I thought it was fantastic and enticing as did so many other visitors who spent a substantial amount of time examining the many models on display. This was an interesting subject matter to study in model form due to the ‘god’ like decisions that come from each of these buildings across the globe. One of my favourite displays of the show.

Projection Models – There was a noticeable buzz around the use of projectors to animate aspects of otherwise static models from the students I was with. Whilst this is something we have looked into before there were several good examples used across the Biennale.

The Canadian pavilion made extensive use of the projection model with micro projectors mounted above white site models. Each model showed traffic flow trends and potential variants in the environment around the site. Anyone wanting to attempt a similar project should start by looking at the type of projector you want to use as they can be expensive and planning their set up in relation to the model is crucial.




The Italian pavilion made use of a similar projection set up but was across a master plan model showing city routes toward and around particular hubs of activity.


Also on display in the Italian Pavilion was a host of plaster cast models (right) each with a high level of finish and detail that guaranteed a closer inspection from anyone who walked into the room.


This alpine mountain range model (left) made using a CNC router worked fantastically when OS maps were projected on the the model from directly above. the contouring matched perfectly and appeared almost hologram like in front of the viewer.

Russia – In the Russian pavilion there was an interesting model on show that combined digital animation with a physical model. The basic walls and elevations of the model were built up out of plywood and overlaid on top of screens with animated environments of the proposed interior spaces (left).




Turkey – There was a fantastic presentation cross section model of a theatre which was finished in veneer and full lighting (below). As is usually the case with models of this size they invite you to almost get inside the building and view different perspectives as you choose. This model was one of the best in show in terms of attention to detail and finish quality.

Japan – This display reminded me of a studio workspace with samples from different stages of the design process on display all over the room. Amongst the items were plaster casts (left) and perhaps interesting for our second and third year students at the moment, 1:1 structural details such as this fantastic timber joint detail below.


The main ‘Fundamentals of Architecture’ display by Rem Koolhass contained a fantastic array of different design and building components split it to groups and stages of production. One of the rooms featured a wide range of concept models from spiral stair cases (right). These were produced in different materials and at varied levels of finish but all as intriguing to see as each other.


The Hungarian Pavilion featured a number of great drawings and subsequent sketch models (left). These were made from a variety of materials and almost 100% using traditional analogue methods – that means no laser cutting guys!



A huge part of the display in the French Pavilion looked at the tower block housing development called Cite De La Muette. The site was a modernist development that became synonymous with sadness after it was converted into a major internment camp for persecuted French Jews awaiting deportation during WW2.

The exhibition looked at the values and goals the development originally set out to achieve that were unfortunately very short lived. The center piece of the display was a white presentation model of the site with a romanticized film vision of modernist living projected behind (left).

Conceptual presentation model on display in the Costa Rican Pavilion (below)

I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the design but this Korean hotel model was finished to a high standard from beech veneer and timber (below). Very nice.

One of the 3d printed models from the Moroccan Pavilion display (below). A series of site models were displayed under spotlights in a sand filled dark room. Quite a strange experience to walk around.

Interestingly, despite its increasing prominence in people’s consciousness both professional and public, the use of 3D printing was thankfully kept to an appropriate level in most cases. I was particularly glad of this as the repeated use of this method of model production can become somewhat boring!

As well as the endless exploring of exhibitions across Venice the visiting students did manage to get a tutorial or two in and a presentation session of their proposed ideas.

The show was a fantastic display and I would encourage anyone to visit and see as much of it as possible next time around. The city is, without really needing to say, a fantastic inspiration and learning experience in itself.


Elsewhere Park, an ‘Eco-Labratory’ in Egypt

On a recent trip to Egypt I was thrilled to be invited by friends to visit a unique ‘eco-labratory’ experiment on the banks of the Nile. Elsewhere park is a private plot of land owned, maintained and developed by ex-pat Jules Johnson and her husband Naser. The park was set up as a long time dream of Jules to be able to create a haven away from the manic pace of Cairo city life.

2014-04-21 16.51.16With limited experience of building Jules and Naser set out to build their ideal practical get-away for themselves and other ex-pats needing to escape. Jules had a very clear idea of how her ideas should look with certain aspects pending on material tests and availability. This gave a bespoke touch to the whole site which works fantastically. Even so Jules tried to define her ideas through designs in a professional manner. These designs met with confused local architects whom more often than not stick to a very generic set of bland construction rules that, to say the least, leave much to be desired.

With the usual stumbling blocks of building construction inevitable, things were made increasingly difficult by un-co-operative tradesman and a difficulty in sourcing good quality eco building materials.

Having heard of the difficulties in construction and seen the finished articles on site I was very eager to pass on the story of this fantastic place to yourselves and open up the possibility of a future collaboration on a live-project on the site! I thought it better that Jules tell the story so read my interview with her below to find out more.

With a little planning It may be possible for us to visit the site as a small group of students to take part in the experiments and contribute from our experience in MSA. If you are interested in finding out more please email me at

2014-04-22 16.19.29What is Elsewhere park and why did you decide to embark on such a project?

I am widely travelled and have watched the world go by from many a town square or roadside cafe. But not in Egypt.

After finding myself married to a local man, having a young son, very little income and living in a concrete sweat box in the middle of one the filthiest cities you will ever see, I decided to start exploring the countryside. We started to visit Nasers family more often in a village called Matania (meaning Germany) it’s a couple of miles south of the park. The poor conditions dissuaded us from using their toilets or considering staying overnight.

There are no centres or main shopping roads in any of the towns and villages and it’s inappropriate for women to be in a coffee shop. So. I needed somewhere close to build a proper, sit down Loo, At least we could spend more time there.

2014-04-19 11.52.17Was the park’s purpose always clear or has it evolved over time?

The park was not the first time we built but it was going to be the final time. We had intended to buy a piece of Nile River land, before it became illegal, to build our retirement house.

Naser envisioned a huge Roman style columned block with lawns and conifers!

I was thinking more along the lines of the Victorian Sea Front shelters with rockeries around the inevitable but inappropriate, lawns. The ideas involving Elsewhere are evolving all the time. I love other people to share their ideas and enthusiasm.

I was very conscious of the dreadful conditions the local Bedouin people live in and the delicacy of their customs. A kindly Hungarian lady asked what she could do to help them and decided to open a little school. We allowed her to build a small room (the red brick one) in the Park, rent and electricity, with use of the kitchen and bathroom. This is now the shed and the Nile River School has moved to its permanent location in a purpose built and larger school, just up the road.

2014-04-19 14.43.32 2014-04-19 14.39.18[Put simply] the park supports educational interests of both privately funded (Rich Cairo schools) and the Nile River School that survives on donations and volunteers.The park was created for rest, recovery and inspiration. It can be made available for education and certain types of entertainment. Private hobbies and dreams. I love the freedom to try anything and enjoy other peoples enthusiasm and experience that they have been willing to contribute.

Recently, a group of ladies I teach with needed somewhere at the Park to stay, instead of putting up tents. This is the building we are currently working on and you Scott, are the only bloke that has been allowed to do anything creative on it!

2014-04-19 14.40.01 2014-04-19 18.22.59What inspired you to lead the design the buildings on your site?

I had to design the buildings myself as I spent 15 years in the Logistics field which always comes first in my considerations. I have no faith in the engineering judgments of most architects here and they would only communicate with Naser because 1. He speaks Arabic and 2. He is a Man.

Women have no business interfering in such things in Egyptian society.

What problems did you encounter and how did you overcome them?

Everyone here thinks and says you can’t do that, that’s not possible. So I go ahead and start the job myself.

There are many bribes to be paid at intervals but there were many more when we started. The Authorities take their share. River Authority, River Land Authority, Land Authority, Road Authority, Electricity Authority, Building Authority. Because I am foreign, all of our paperwork to do with the Park, is all perfectly legal to ensure we don’t lose it.

The first thing we did was build the road down to give vehicle access to the land.

The walls collapsed and the road fell down.

Next doors road also fell down and at this point I decided to take all building under my wing.

The first building had to be pulled down four times before we managed to get a license for electricity. This would then prove it was a lived- in building and therefore could not be demolished. This was the normal process. The law has changed since then and the Authorities are starting to pull down the swarm of buildings that have been put up since the other Authorities have been otherwise occupied.

2014-04-18 18.00.19There are always problems with the quality of materials, all of the roof beams are twisted and most wood is full of knots and bark. The electricity is normally connected from the street lights and it runs your single light bulb via the window. Elsewhere Park has more light bulbs than the whole Ezbah (Hamlett) put together and more double sockets too. There have been so many problems!

Does the ‘try it and see’ attitude to building lend itself to the locality given the uncertainty of Material supplies? And do you find testing/prototyping beneficial?

I love to try it and see. I am not familiar with some of the local materials so I research their uses and  use their transferable properties with my own transferable skills, to create an object with meaning and multipurpose. I am proud of some of my triumphs in the control of temperature and I can’t wait to put the roof on the Burrow (Cob) to see how I have performed with daylight.

2014-04-19 14.35.25 2014-04-19 14.35.06We encourage people to collect as much data from the Park as they can. If you need our help, just ask.

Does the eco/ethical consideration behind Eleswhere Park have potential to expand to other areas in the locality or Egypt as a whole?

Oh Yes. There are a few organisations that dabble in the recycling field but not many dabbling in Permaculture. Most countryside folk don’t have hot water. They have very poor ventilation but no insulation. (The Arabs invented air conditioning with a roof modification)

There is a need in the British Education Private Sector for workshops/presentations and other educational tools on eco-friendly subjects as we have no public parks, forests or accessible countryside. Many students attending these schools have architects and interior designers in their families and are ready to learn some common sense. Rich land owners prefer lawns and columns. Where nature is organized and trees cut into cylindrical shapes. Check out the history of the place and you can see Islamic ceramic influence in many things.

2014-04-21 21.16.15 2014-04-19 18.20.27What do you hope to do with the site in the future?

I would love to see the Park full of little ongoing experiments, set up by some and monitored by many. We will continue to build. The next building may be from river reeds with the potential to pass this knowledge on to the local lads so they possibly make sun shades commercially.

2014-04-22 16.31.30 2014-04-21 17.00.33 2014-04-19 15.54.03The next project (after the Burrow) will be to make a hot water system for the Castle showers. I would like to make this out of recycled materials and use solar power.

My dream for the Park is to make approximately 8 more buildings, using more and more local and renewable materials as possible. Here are some of the plans:

There will be a more extravagant Cob guest room,

Straw bale guest room,

Natural Tee Pee,

River reed shelter with the possibility to extend this technique to the surrounding communities for roofing or animal shelter.

Wooden shed on stilts overlooking clay lined pond that may possibly be for aquaponics.

Jetty to moor boats.

Probably, a metal chassis floating caravan.

Workshop for my art stuff, tools and future projects. I would like to make a wood turning lathe.

Open kitchen on the end of the Castle block.

2014-04-22 11.37.00As the power will be unreliable this summer, I would like to start more seriously with renewable energy installations.

The cost of electric will be rising 25% shortly too.

2014-04-19 17.29.00 2014-04-22 13.43.10Have you considered collaborating with architectural institutes in Egypt to help develop and experiment with the site?

At the moment, I have no plans to involve the architectural institutes in Egypt as the Tutors are notoriously jealous of their powerful positions and the dated styles that they personally believe in. (They may even try to close the Park down, in case our ideas become popular with the rich and famous)

Architects and Tutors here are not usually willing to cooperate with any alternative styles or concepts, especially from women or foreigners as they see this as doing themselves out of a job. They also earn huge amounts of commission from the suppliers and manufacturers of the raw materials and from contractors and sub-contractors.

They also encourage the use of materials that are produced in Egypt, (by the military)but that have a high carbon footprint, such as cement, metals and plastics.

There are several historical and social influences to consider when wondering about modern day buildings. One thing that bothers me most is the complete lack of common sense when planning rooms, buildings and community areas. I believe that this complacency has had a long term effect on moral and society and I am finding that this problem is still being ignored , even in the high class areas.(we have 7 different classes of people in Egypt)

2014-04-19 14.35.49 2014-04-22 11.38.13 2014-04-22 11.12.01So. What are you waiting for?

The sun shines every day, its either warm or hot.

We have an almost constant northerly wind.

We have the longest river in the world which runs at about 5 knots.

We must be able to do something with all of that?

All the best, Jules

(Interview Between Scott Miller and Jules Johnson 2014)

1:1 Facade Detail Model, Henry Faulkner

[Re_Map] student Henry Faulkner has created this 1:1 detail model demonstrating the variable solar shading facade concept he has designed.

facade section1These two renders show how the facade would appear with shades open (above)and then closed (below)
facade section2Henry describes the project for us:

The overall project has resulted in a mixed use development which aims to provide housing and an educational facility for academic refugees from around the world. The vast majority of refugees entering the UK in recent years have been from the middle east and northern Africa, from countries such as Iran, Afghanistan and Syria. Taking influence from their history and culture, I developed a facade component that adopts an Islamic geometrical pattern, using its rotational symmetry to create a dynamic solar shading device. (Henry Faulkner 2014)

Henry FaulknerHenry cut the gearing for the model using acrylic to create the components which he had developed through test models previously. The refined design was then drawn up in cad and the component profiles laser cut – fabric included. When cutting fabric or any material you are unsure of it’s always a good idea to run some tests on a scrap piece to ensure the finish you wish to achieve.
Henry Faulkner Re_Map (3) Wire was used as a former and support for the fabric ‘fans’ which when stretched out want to fold under their own weight.

Henry Faulkner Re_Map (2)Henry Faulkner Re_Map (5) Henry Faulkner Re_Map (7)

Henry Faulkner (8) Henry Faulkner (9) Henry Faulkner (11)

“Poppy” Pavilion at Dunham Massey

As we have documented since the start of this academic year, the poppy pavilion project has taken many hours of development and construction to create. Much of the final structure assembly was completed in our store space due to the sheer size of the piece. Alex, Lorena and Nancy assembled of structure in two main parts before transportation to the site.  


The group met on a cold and rainy February morning to assemble the pieces at Dunham Massey National Trust park. The poppy was anchored using 3 fence piles which were fixed to the bottom of the structure. The final assembly too a full day and another morning to complete not to mention some frozen hands by all accounts!

The completed structure held its form well and had withstood the recent stormy weather with no problems. The structure along with the other Pavilion projects can be seen on display at Dunham Massey over the coming months.

Well done all involved!

Pavilion Development Continues

The development of the Dunham Massey Pavilions has been slowly progressing over the last two months with many different problems to overcome. Many of the original concepts have changed in scale and style whilst others have remained largely unchanged.

For Alexander Valakh and Lorena Chan the main problems have come from various material tolerances effect on their designs.

The group used the CNC router to cut plywood components for this phase of their design development. The original poppy concept that was made from cardboard and the riveted elements allowed a lot of flex. When applying the same ideas to a more durable and weather resistant material the same shapes could not be achieved. This is where 1:1 design development models come into use.To test the strength of each joint for their revised design the group decided to risk lorenas life lorena to the task. Luckily their design proved successful and despite a few oversights in fixing elements which can easily be rectified, the group can move on.

After the experimental first test in concrete casting, it was nesissary for this group to solve the issues of casting their numbers into each block. For their second attempt they tried using laser cut rubber components with a much smaller block to prevent material waste and save on weight.  Any mould is always worth considering in depth as a badly designed one will cause you a world of problems when you come to remove your cast. This box was simple but constructed well to allow easy disassembly once the cast has cured.  The finished block turned out well with the flex in the rubber numbers allowing for the expansion of the concrete as it sets. Laser cutting this material can prove time consuming and the number required may need to be outsourced due to demand on our machines from all Architecture Students. It is always worth considering outsourcing elements that need to be mass produced as if you are involved in a ‘real world’ project. Costs can often be lower and experienced companies will be able to offer you more specific advice on what you are trying to achieve at 1:1. We’ll be posting more on these project in the near future! 

Garden Pavilions Continued – Learning Curves and Problem Solving

Development of the 6th year pavilion projects is continuing at pace down in the workshop. Test models often bring assembly issues to the surface which Alexander Valakh, Lorena Chan and Nancy Chan have been finding with their concepts. This is exactly why these models play a vital role in design development.  Here Alex has created his outer skin from laser cut polypropylene plastic sheet fixed with pop rivets. This has proved tricky and mid way through assembly it became clear that a more uniform stapled fixing would have been more effective. Lorena and Nancy have spent the last few days fixing components for this concept together. The original concept was to have a smooth curved structure forming the tunnel walkway. As the components were fixed the group found that the curve was un-uniform due to the varying strain between components. Whilst this isn’t exactly how the concept was drawn it has still proved an interesting experiment and may still be taken to the next stage.

Pavilion Project (4)The concrete cast (below) has also had some teething problems with the cast numbers not turning out as refined as the group would have liked. This process will require more thought if it is to be taken forward. The group has found that their choice of aggregate or quantity used may be to blame for the irregular casting around the number details. One thing is for sure it wont be going too far given its weight despite having a polystyrene block inside to reduce the material used!

Garden Pavilions at Dunham Massey 2013

Much like the brief set this time last year students are currently in the concept stages of designing a series of pavilions to be constructed at 1:1 at Dunahm Massey (Read our blog post here). This project was challenging for both staff and students last year and really pushed the boundaries of what the workshops can handle.

This year the project is aiming to be more refined and, with support of workshop staff, come to an effective and ‘speed-bump’ free conclusion!

Alexander Valakh (Below) is working on several sketch models to help convey his project named ‘The Shadow of War’ to tutors in the hope it will be taken to the next stage of development.

To test his theory for eventual 1:1 construction Alex had produced a plywood sketch model in identical fashion to the full size proposal on our CNC. Producing this model has allowed Alex to explore problems he may encounter whilst using this method and has already identified several areas that will need more thought. These issues are not a hindrance to the design process but feed into it and shouldn’t be seen as a waste of time. problem solving through trial and error models are often the best way of refining a design for production.

This group is also producing another concept pavilion using paper to create the sketch model. The flower-like components are created and joined using pop rivets which will eventually form a curved canopy. 

Another (!) concept from the same group involves casting concrete blocks as part of a wall sculpture. This is part of the same brief but is less interactive due to the nature of the proposed site. This was poured yesterday afternoon and is still setting so we’ll hopefully have some more pictures of how that is progressing by the end of the week.


Grand Designs Live, ExCel, London

Yesterday myself and Jim travelled down to London to visit the Grand Designs Live show at ExCel. The show presents hundreds of suppliers from various design industries inspired by the hit TV series. Of particular interest to us was the use of models as sales pieces for show participants. This was not limited to scaled down architectural pieces but full size 1:1 constructions and prototype details. Throughout the day we were able to meet a variety of people and spread the word about the workshop, this blog and the courses we are involved with here in Manchester.

Several weeks ago we posted about the dwelle project that was completed in the workshop. This project was and continues to be very successful for dwelle in demonstrating the construction behind their eco house design. The model made a starring appearance at the show next to the Grand Theatre which hosts many design related lectures over 10 days.

As well as visiting ExCel we stopped by at the V & A to have a quick look at their Architecture gallery. The gallery features a good selection of model types and styles and is well worth a visit if you are in the area.